In addition to inevitable effects that automated trucking will have on labor markets, this transition also has many folks worried about safety. Many drivers wonder if we can we really trust a computer to steer a 40-ton behemoth down the highway at speeds exceeding 70 MPH. After all, we will all have to share the road with these machines.
There was much speculation on the future of the automated transportation industry last March when a woman was killed back by an automated Uber vehicle while crossing a street in Tempe, Arizona. Experts tell us that this is a media item and does not represent a serious treat to the industry. Companies like Google have a great track record over the past decade or so. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the same standards would apply to self-driving trucks.
There are many factors that differentiate autonomous cars and autonomous trucks. For one, autonomous cars are expected to perform a greater variety of duties such as merging, lane changing, and urban driving. Automated trucks, conversely, would only be truly autonomous when cruising on the highway; drivers would still handle all types of complex maneuvers.
One of the reasons for this is that trucks are much more fickle than cars when it comes to preforming swift jerky motions, such as an abrupt lane change. Doing so too quickly may cause a truck to fishtail or jackknife. Therefore, the hand of a skilled driver is still needed. Even with an automated system, an attentive driver will still be needed to monitor the system. It takes a driver resting in the back about 30 seconds to rise and fully orient himself back in the driver’s seat. This is clearly not enough time to avoid an obstacle in the middle of the road (TechnologyReview). Given these details, it seems that we are still some time away from developing the type of technology needed to keep trucking safe.
Companies that are developing automated trucking technology are working out these kinks. Much progress has been made, but there is still a long road ahead of us.
Next week we will continue the discussion on the safety of self-driving trucks.
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